Social Support Helps Boost Young Cancer Patients

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, March 9, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Social networks and support appear to be stronger among teen and young adult cancer survivors than among their peers who haven't had cancer, a new study has found.

Overall, the cancer survivors were found to have more emotional and other types of support and to get more advice on health topics such as physical activity and weight.

The 204 participants in the study included 102 cancer survivors, 18 to 30 years old, who'd been diagnosed with cancer when they were 15 to 30. The others were the same age as the cancer survivors, but they'd never had cancer.

Results of the study were published online March 8 in the journal Cancer.

The findings make sense because cancer "survivors often have strong networks of physicians, friends and relatives to provide advice and support," study leader I-Chan Huang said in a news release from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. He's an associate faculty member in the Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control.

However, the researchers found that the strength of survivors' social support varied by the type of cancer.

Lymphoma survivors had the most social support, followed by survivors of leukemia and solid tumors, the study found. Those who'd survived brain and central nervous system cancers had the weakest social support -- even less support than among the cancer-free study participants.

"Brain tumor survivors may experience more treatment-related neurocognitive problems that make communication and forming social networks more difficult," Huang said.

Long-term follow-up of the cancer survivors is needed to determine how their social networks and social support may change over time, according to the researchers.

"Adolescents and young adult cancer survivors are in a transitory stage of independence from parents," Huang said. "While this study suggests that survivors often report strong social connections, our previous studies have reported that childhood cancer survivors are more likely than their peers to struggle mentally and physically and report issues like distress and loneliness."

This research could help identify ways to help strengthen cancer survivors' social networks, he said.

"A lack of social connections with friends and relatives is associated with poor quality of life, risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions and premature death," Huang said. "Once we identify the mechanism between social connections and health outcomes, we can start designing interventions to use social networks to improve health outcomes of cancer survivors."

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SOURCE: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, news release, March 8, 2018
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